Becoming a parent is life-changing on so many levels. The process of `becoming’ is deeply existential. The `meanings’ we have around parenting can be very personal but sometimes are often overshadowed by the attitudes, beliefs, values and expectations held by others. Finding our `authentic way to parent’ and how we make sense about being a father or a mother is profoundly existential.
Fatherhood can be a truly transformative experience for men. The transition into the parental role of father often precipitates a fundamental shift in not only a man’s sense of self but it can also bring about a change in consciousness from “me” to “we.” Fatherhood is more than simply a role. It is a state of being. The shift from “me” to “we” evolves from the earliest experiences of father-child bonding.
In a recent posting on ScienceDaily, there is an interesting study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Dads bond with baby during ‘magic moment’ of ultrasound” that looks at the early formation of attachment bonds between father and child. What I find most interesting about the study is that the findings suggest that the ultrasound experience may serve as a gateway for men to embark on a journey of mindful fathering. The ultrasound experience seems like a natural entry way to engaging men in a conversation around what it means to be a father. On a personal note, I remember my seeing my son for the first time via the `magic moment’ of ultrasound and it was life changing!
In my work as a counsellor, many of the men that I have been privledged to work with often seem to father “in silence” and carry around a lot of unprocessed thoughts and feelings (positive and negative). Men need safe, supportive spaces to process and talk about their fathering experiences without judgment. To me, this seems essential as the life-changing effects of fatherhood involve inner emotional experiences often linked to a man’s family of origin, his relationship with his own father, how he sees himself as a man, his personal values and ethics, his relationship with his intimate partner and his work life.
While there does seem to be a growing awareness about the benefits of positive father involvement and a trend toward engaging men in parenting programs and counselling, the pervasiveness of masculine stereotypes (stoic, tough, dominant, in-control, un-emotional and so forth) often make it a challenge for some men to reach out for support. Sometimes men may struggle with intense feelings of guilt and shame around some of their behaviors such as aggression in the home or addiction which can take many forms including workholism which gets in the way of their positive fathering intentions.
I believe that for many men, fathering is often a catalyst for personal growth and transformation whereby they chose to consciously align their daily living with their true values. Sometimes this translates into such behavioral changes as quitting smoking, finding better work-family life balance, managing, interacting more compassionately toward their partner and being more emotionally present in their child’s life.
Supporting men to embark on a path of mindful fathering, to father authentically and encouraging them to be the best fathers they can be is incredibly energizing and rewarding work. I find that there is something uniquely special about men supporting men around nurturing the next generation.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dads bond with baby during ‘magic moment’ of ultrasound. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 April 2014 (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140424124959.htm).
Kyle D. Pruett, M.D., Father Need (New York: Broadway Books, 2000).
Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis of Masculinity featuring Jackson Katz, video produced by Media Education Foundation, 1999.